Saturday, November 14, 2009

Total Depravity is Depraved

One of the most self serving doctrines that man has ever created is "Total Depravity". It is the idea that man is born into a state in which he cannot do anything that is good. Goodness only comes when one has crossed over into Christianity. This doctrine was popularized by a 16th century preacher named John Calvin, and it is the cornerstone doctrine of many Christians today.

Last week, a local Pastor wrote an article for the Salt Lake Tribune extoling the virtues of Total Depravity. His motivation was an advertising campaign that was launched by Athiests in New York. Ads were placed in the subways that stated, "A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?"

As a Christian, I believe that the fascination most of my fellow believers have with Calvin's doctrine is driven by a desire to control. Total depravity gives the user a trump card (in their mind) whereby they can be better than everyone else around them... without, in fact, being better.

This is why many Christians react to campaigns like the Athiests in New York created. The ad spotlights goodness, rather than doctrine, and puts the Christian and the Athiest on an even playing field. The Christian does not like to lose their trump card, so they loudly insist that everyone play by their rules.

I can quote scripture with the best of them, and I know that many Christians reading this are pulling out their favorite scriptures to justify their pet postition. I already know them, so put away your Gideons. As with most "scriptural" positions, an easy scriptural rebuttal can be made.

Rather than scripture fencing, I would like to look at fruit (what actions result from positions) John Calvin is held in high esteem by many Christians. Yet he did not really do anything worth emulating. He created doctrines that gave Christians power over people... little else. Cities where Calvin's doctrines reigned were oppressive. Calvin had a man arrested for disagreeing with him. Convicted of heresy, Michael Severetus was burned at the stake. Calvin thought that was a bit extreme... he would have preferred a mere beheading.

Could any of us picture Ghandi calling for somone's death for holding a different position? Of course not! He was too GOOD a man for us to even imagine such a thing.

To me, that is where Total Depravity falls apart. It renders words like good, bad, right and wrong completely meaningless. Instead, it simply seeks to elevate a particular people group.

I do not believe the teachings of Jesus line up with a doctrine that causes us to render human goodness meaningless.


Tit for Tat said...

Geez, that girl reminds me of my daughter after she took a chunk out of my thumb. ;)

OneSmallStep said...

What amuses me about the concept of total depravity is that it means good is no longer an absolute. Take feeding the poor for example. If an atheist feeds the poor, it's not a good thing. If a Christian feeds the poor, it is a good thing.

What makes feeding the poor good? Obviously not the act itself. It's goodness becomes dependent on the person performing the action.

Yet if we take a bad act, such as murder, it's "badness" isn't dependent on who commits it, it's a bad act in itself. Why does the concept of bad get defined as an absolute, and the concept of good becomes relative?

Andrew said...

So true OSS, and I think it is ironic that most Christians with a reformed/calvanist bent will be the first to crow about "absolutes".

OneSmallStep said...


Yup. And I also find this a dangerous position, because something good means something done perfect. Good and perfect become synonymous, and so anything that is done less than perfect, even if done 0.000000001% less than perfect, is defaulted to "bad." And since very little can be done perfectly, most of everything people do is bad. That's a horrible burden to place on them.

It would be like telling someone who received a 99% on their test that they did something bad. A 99% is spectacular.

Steve H. said...

I find some of the arguments here to be somewhat "strawman" arguments. I think there are two realities at work, and to camp out on either one exclusively is to miss the point. We are "bent" to be sure but I never liked the term "total Depravity". Its wrong but its the opposite to the popular belief I heard all the time in Boulder that "people are inhearently good". Equally ridiculous.

Whats missed is that the universal struggle is always made to be "good vs evil" when its not. Its the tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil that curseed man. Its the Tree of Life that saves. Its "good & evil Vs. life" which is the real struggle. Anyone, from any religion can bring "goodness" only God can bring life.

Don said...

Nice post Andrew! It's good to reconnect with you. Seems I had sort of lost you in the crowd. Got you on my blogroll! Blessings!

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